; The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner
Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny
Michael Wallis. Liveright, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-87140-
Adopting an empathetic approach bolstered by studious
research and geographical contextualization, biographer
Wallis (David Crockett) reclaims the horrific story of the
infamously ill-fated wagon train from the annals of sensationalism. Though nearly synonymous with cannibalism in
pop culture lore, the Donner Party’s 1846–1847 journey
receives from Wallis a balanced treatment, showing that the
surviving members who chose cannibalism did so as a last
resort—and largely because saving their starving children
was their priority. Wallis effectively mixes survivors’ accounts,
trip diaries, and other contemporary sources, delving deep
into the backgrounds and dynamics of the multiple families
involved in the four-months-long winter wilderness encampment. For example, Tamzene Donner transformed from a
botanist who planned to open a school into a resilient
mother and wife who fed her children human flesh and
refused to leave her desperately ill husband during three
different rescue efforts. Wallis explains that the caravan
suffered multiple setbacks, including livestock thefts by
Native Americans and an unusually long and harsh winter.
The leaders also routinely made bad decisions, such as
trusting an untested “shortcut” promoted by an armchair
guidebook author. The Donner Party’s struggles and determination continue to fascinate, and Wallis’s comprehensive
account of bravery, luck, and failure illuminates the realities
of westward expansion. (June)
Pick of the week
20 Writers to Watch
This season’s crop of notable fiction debuts ranges across continents, from Asia to South America, though some of our new writers
found inspiration here in the U.S.
28 Gift Books & Sidelines
For those looking to get away from screens for a while, publishers
offer up new gift books and sidelines.
36 Comics Retailing
Retailers blame the presidential campaign and postelection anxiety
for soft sales, but some comics and graphic novels categories are
growing in the book trade and in the comics shop market.
42 Cracking the Teacup
Margaret Drabble confronts aging in her new novel, The Dark Flood Rises.
4 The Importance of Backlist
Indie booksellers see strong backlist selections as key to distinguishing themselves from competitors.
5 Knopf to Publish Memoir of a Father’s Loss
After his two-year-old daughter was killed in an accident, Jayson
Greene turned to writing to help him cope. Knopf will publish his
book in March 2019.
5 The Weekly Scorecard
Unit sales of print books fell 4% in the week ended February 5,
compared to the similar week last year.
6 March Shines for Diamond Book Distributors
The large distributor of graphic novels had its second-best year in
2016, helped by the success of the three volumes of March.
10 Coming Together
More than 1,400 Penguin Random House employees took part in
Company Week, a five-day event aimed at bringing staff members
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